'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1'
The latest ‘Hunger Games’ sequel adapts half the final book into what can only be described as half a movie. Granted, it’s a pretty good half a movie, but you can’t help feeling ripped off when the credits roll. This is a product of greedy franchise filmmaking that ironically criticizes capitalist greed in a variety of lengthy stretched-out monologues. That’s some pretty delicious irony right there. Too bad it’s not deliberate.
When we last saw Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence at her most sullen), she found herself lovingly kidnapped by the underground rebel forces hoping to bring peace and economic equality to her land. The third film in the series shifts genres slightly, while still ensuring that ‘The Hunger Games’ remains one of the most complex and thoughtful YA blockbuster franchises on the market. The gently communist rebels live in a world of grays and minimalism, in stark contrast to the candy colored excess of the ruling class. Led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), they’re also just as interested in using Katniss for propagandistic gain in their movement.
Along with gamesmaster-turned-rebel Putarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Coin hopes that Katniss will agree to assume the symbolic role of Mockingjay and lead the rebels to victory. After seeing the tragic rubble wasteland of a recent government attack, she agrees and stars in a few short propaganda videos as well as a single battle. On the other side of the spectrum, Donald Sutherland’s evil opulent President Snow has kidnapped and brainwashed one of Katniss’ love interests, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to star in his own propaganda videos begging for peace. It’s a highly symbolic political battle building towards an inevitable battle climax. Unfortunately, those climaxes don’t tend to arrive in movies with “Part 1” in the title.
It has to be said that ‘The Hunger Games’ remains one of the most intelligent tentpole blockbusters on the market, even in this anticlimactic movie that’s been needlessly chopped in half. With the games themselves now gone from the series (and the unavoidable comparisons to ‘Battle Royale’ along with them), the franchise has transformed into a tale of rebellion with its politics even more proudly displayed on its sleeve. It’s really nice to see an immensely popular teen franchise with an anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian message as well as a strong female hero.
If anything, those elements are increased here, and the film benefits from that immensely. The series also continues its quest to fill the screen with the kings and queens of American indie cinema, who lend gravitas, realism and emotion to the pop hit much like a generation of British actors did in the ‘Harry Potter’ series. Lawrence continues to carry the film with ease, and she’s backed up gamely by the likes of Moore, the late great Hoffman, Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks. The film certainly has talent, class, darkness and truth that most examples of the genre can’t claim. Likewise, director Francis Lawrence (‘Constantine’, ‘I Am Legend’) shoots the film in an appropriately dark style with splashes of violence as disturbing and unheroic as the PG-13 rating will allow. Stand back from it all and ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1’ is a pretty impressive piece of work within the massive blockbuster form. The trouble is that just as everything starts to come together, the whole movie stops.
Sadly, there’s only about an hour worth of movie here that’s been stretched out to two endless hours so that the studio can get one more ‘Hunger Games’ flick to screens before closing the doors on the franchise. To pad things out, we’re treated to at least 40 minutes of Jennifer Lawrence staring sadly into the distance and characters constantly repeating the plot points and central concepts as if viewers hadn’t picked up on them the first time.
The movie also has barely any actual action. The spectacle is pretty much all limited to one battle and one heist, with another potential action sequence frustratingly staged off screen. That’s a major problem given that this franchise has thrived and survived on a mix of thrills and ideas that is woefully out of balance here. This is two hours of stage-setting for the climax that will happen in the next movie. Even if that leads to a fourth ‘Hunger Games’ movie that plays as two solid hours of climax and resolution, fans have been ripped off with this outing.
There’s far too much strong material here to completely write off ‘Mockingjay, Part 1’, but it’s a real shame that the studio made the decision to split the final film in half. The movie is an undeniably unsatisfying experience despite everything the filmmakers get right. The next movie had better make up for what went wrong here, otherwise ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise might have fallen apart just as things were getting interesting.